This week on the Northeast Newscast we sat down with Northeast Kansas City, Missouri Chamber of Commerce Management Intern Rol Deng to discuss his summer project. Deng has lived in Northeast for almost 20 years, since he came here as a refugee.
Deng gathered information from 120 businesses in Northeast, polling them on everything from COVID-19 impacts to the number of employees.
Listen to this week’s episode to hear more about Deng’s entrepreneurial spirit, services the Chamber offers to its member businesses and an interesting insight into our neighborhood businesses.
The following transcript has been edited for grammar and clarity. Rol’s presentation can be viewed at nekcchamber.com.
Abby Hoover: Welcome back to the Northeast Newscast. This week we sat down with Rol Deng, who spent his summer as a Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce management intern. Deng gathered information from 121 businesses in Northeast, polling them on everything from COVID-19 impacts to the number of employees they have. He has lived in Northeast for almost 20 years since he came here as a refugee. Now, he discusses going back to school to follow his passion as an entrepreneur, shares services the chamber offers its members and provides an interesting insight into our neighborhood businesses. Thanks for joining me today. If you could tell me a little bit about yourself, how you found this internship?
Rol Deng: Well, good question. Yes, I have lived here for 20 years, and first I will introduce myself. My name is Rol Deng. I came to the U.S. in 2000, July 21, so it’s going to be 20 years this year. I came here with my family, three children and wife, and we’ve been together in this area since then. A little bit why I chose the management internship, I like the business. Business is what I knew back home before the war broke out, and actually I opened a store here for almost seven years on St. John, 2009 until 2017. The reason I went back to school, all those years I was investing, you know, to my children to get higher education. And that worked. My oldest graduated this year, bachelor’s, my son graduated last year, associate degree. My younger one, she graduated three years ago, high school. And that’s when I decided I wanted to go back to school. Didn’t have that chance where I grew up. It was not my parents’ fault, but it was a war between South and North Sudan. My dad was born in war. I, myself, was born in war, including my three children. So that’s why I give them a chance, work to make sure to provide them everything then need to get an education. So 2017 I started going back to school, from class, I started with ESL class, one year. Then 2018 I started my academic classes toward an associate degree. And I’ve managed it so far, my goal, I guess, I want to be business management, and that’s why I chose business management, you know, to know more about the business and how to manage it furthermore.
A:You know, what drew you to entrepreneurship, wanting to run your own business, I guess, be your own boss?
R: Well, I used to have a convenience store. The community we live in here in Northeast is a diverse community and, you know, South Sudanese are many here. So when I opened my convenience store, it was diverse. I had many foods, American foods and also African food, so it was a convenience store. It was really good, but I decided to sell it away in 2017 just to go back to school so that I have credentials. Then when I finish my school I will open up again, and will be more expanded than what I had last time.
A: So your internship this summer focused on businesses, especially in this area – and you being a former business owner in this area, I’m sure you have some connection to those people – but how were you received going to all those businesses? I think you went to 121 businesses.
R: Goal was 150. I think because I’ve been in this area and I know the business perspective, I know how to approach the people and it worked well with me because I had a little bit of experience before. Plus during my classes also – I took some classes which is organizational behavior and also marketing, so it taught me a lot about the business and how to be management – I think, guiding me through during survey of 150, but I managed to get 121, which was really good, and it was great experience also, meeting the business owner and business manager. That achievement didn’t come without my guidance from my professor, which gave me the SMART Five Guiding Principles: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound. I think these five were guiding me as I worked through, plus my relationship and my experience as a businessperson.
A: So do you want to tell me about the questionnaire and everything you passed around to the businesses, and then we can get into some of those results you came across?
R: Yes, as you can see, 121 store visits for survey collection and interview. This brochure right there, that’s the Northeast Brochure, and the study area was Independence and also St. John Avenue. I created a 12-question questionnaire to identify if those businesses really know more benefits from Northeast [Chamber] or not, and that’s how I came up with the 12 questions to create that.
A: So you had them rank certain issues that might be facing businesses, and the top most important issue the business owners were concerned about was building and managing consumer loyalty. Why do you think that was a main concern for them?
R: Being a businessperson, you need to build management-customer loyalty, and when you have a consumer, that means you are in business. I think that’s why it’s really so important to see that and I’m so happy that they are really well-equipped, managing and building customer loyalty. Without the customer, without the consumer, you know, you are not going to have any business.
A: So right up there was safety, crime and cleanliness, and later on in your presentation you said that 84% said that they were okay with the safety and the crime rates, and the cleanliness, on Independence Avenue, St. John Avenue, whichever, but it was also on the top three concerns. So they seem concerned about it, but they don’t want to see any change?
R: Well, I think the most safety and crime and cleanness, why it’s 85%, because that safety has been provided by Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and it’s really helped the business on Independence. You know, that’s why it’s high, and it gives them a break and also protects the business and the customer also.
A: So I’ll ask you a fun question here. Which business you surveyed has been here the longest?
R: Well, I’m surprised because St. John was the last place for me when I was doing the survey, so I focused on Independence and I was expecting to see a longer business there on Independence. But surprisingly, the longest business was the Northeast Newspaper, which surprised everyone. I didn’t know that. I thought some other business should be longer. But yeah, it was Northeast.
A: So, share with me some of the other results, you know, how many employees does the average business have? Or are a lot of them family run?
R: Yeah, during my survey, which is question number two, how many employees do you have or family, the total of employees was 1,072, and average was 8.7 employees. And then any store with family members, total working family members was 30, average four or five a store with family members working.
A: Okay, and were a lot of the stores familiar with the services that the Chamber of Commerce offers to them?
R: For sure, that’s why I break it down, and I did it with all those 121, the result was here, and many businesses know the services the Northeast gives them, and some, they don’t know. So, when I break it down, and question number 5, 53% say yes, and some more than others.
And 15% say no effect during the COVID-19 period, and 32% really slower than usual. And surprisingly, one store had an increase, which is really a surprise, which I know now, believe sometimes disaster can happen, some people can benefit from it, some people it may be a disaster for them.
A: Do you remember which store it was?
R: Well, yeah. I remember that store. It was Westlake, so…
A: I think everybody’s at home working on their projects and their houses and everything. So I was kind of surprised, actually, when I was reading through your research that the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce offers a facade rebate program and will offer merchandising and window display suggestions. Can you tell me a little bit more about those programs?
R: Well, this program I think Northeast provides that and many businesses benefit from it and many businesses also have no idea. And I think that’s where you see the percentages are higher, which is 79% say no, because if we don’t tell them, they don’t know. Another thing is, some of those businesses, they are not owners, they are tenants so that’s why you see the percentage is low, 21% yes. Northeast has a lot of services that if our small businesses here in Northeast and on Independence understand, I think they can benefit from it. During my research, I think those foreign, like Somalia, and some like South Sudanese, Sudanese, they don’t know the value of how the media is really important to be a business. And I think this will be a role that the Northeast can play to see how they can get them into it so that they can understand how communication is very important in business. Including me, when I used to own a store, I didn’t know anything about customer value. If the customer came in, I just turned my face away, not looking for them, but during my education process I know that here in America the customer comes first before anything if you want your business to grow. So a lot of work that maybe the Northeast can consider, then, and see how they can educate them to know media and advertisement and social media is the most important thing in the business. That’s what I learned during my survey.
A: So how will the chamber use these results to help businesses? Will they target those specific businesses that didn’t really know what they offered and help to educate them on the possibilities?
R: I think that the reason that Bobbi Baker sent me out when I was there during my summer internship, I think that was the reason she thought about. She sent me out there to identify specifically what is affecting small businesses and how they can serve them better.
A: I know a lot of businesses have been affected lately, and even though one of them is getting more business, a lot of them are kind of trying to figure out what to do for the future and how they can change and adapt to this new way of life that we have. Is there anything else that you did during your internship or learned from your experience?
R: Not really, but I want to thank Bobbi for accepting me to finish my internship with them. Bobbi has been there for me, and she’s like my mother to me. She encouraged me a lot. Without her support I wouldn’t be where I am today and that’s why I always tell my mother back home that I’ve got a mother here. Well, I don’t have anything more. I want to see God open more doors for me and excited to see what I can do when I graduate. I want to come back and serve my community, and that is all I have.
A: And when are you graduating? Is that coming up soon?
R: Yeah, I’m going to graduate in December, getting my associate. But I’m looking forward, going a little bit higher so I’m going to start in Spring toward my bachelor. But I’m going to graduate in Fall, associate degree…
A: That’s great. Well, I appreciate you coming to speak with me, and I’m sure all the businesses appreciate getting all this extra information that maybe they didn’t even know about, and I know that we love working with the chamber and everything, but it’s really nice to meet their interns and whoever’s helping them out, especially when it’s really informative projects like this.
R: Well, hopeful we’ll meet again. I have one more internship. I may be working in the Fall with Bobbi if there is an assignment that she wants me to focus on, or any project. I think we will follow up and we may work together as a business partner to see how Northeast will help them.
A: And that was Rol Deng, management intern from the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Thanks for listening, I’m Abby Hoover.